Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Quantum leaps of faith

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Music on March 31, 2012 at 5:32 am

Rehearsal/warm up starts at 9:30 in a friend’s theater in Lavaur. Then, we set up in front of the Halle aux Grains around 11:30. Showtime at noon. The carnaval goes on until late tonight. Someone’s bound to come back to this town in the afternoon. Other events to cover, plus a friend came by yesterday afternoon. We sat in the garden, drank pomegranate syrup mixed with water, talked about life, kids, her projects; she invited me to a bring-your-own-music party at her house tonight. After which I’ll collapse and continue with story.

How to say it. How to get the fucking thing across. The game is stacked against – how to call it? Laughter, light-heartedness? Attention to the light in the trees, the sounds of life? As if affliction carried some special VIP status. As if, through the ages,  staying riveted to the horrors had shown some evidence of yielding a change for the better. Ingrained? maybe; if so, more’s the reason to say thanks, I’ll try something else.

Dis-continuity, for example. All the talk about orderly progressions, cause leading to effect, etc? Illusion. Without a gap to bridge, not a single impulse makes it from one neuron to another.

Getting it right. The point isn’t in denying the obvious. The point is what you choose to honor i.e. where  you put your attention i.e. how you deal with the undertows i.e. how you break free from them. Nope, I don’t have a recipe; if I did, how could I try to write something I’ve never written before?


In Drafts, Games, Hautvoir, Music on March 30, 2012 at 7:10 am

Looks aren’t everything?

His two older brothers: you see them coming,  you don’t know them? You turn and cross the street, pretending you’ve forgotten something. In a TV series about the ‘hood, both would get cast with the bad guys. General appearance, for one. Intensity, for another. This is before you meet their mother; then, you gulp and say Hi. Even her ten-year old son knows better than to fool around when mom’s in the room.

We get along fine; we’ve never had reason not to. When the second of the older brothers showed up in my classroom yesterday (this, after a visit by Number One, then Mom), the message was clear: both the kid brother and yours truly are under active surveillance. Of the benevolent kind – if fierceness can be thus qualified. The kid’s teacher says he’s doing better in school; the family’s showing up to make sure he doesn’t backtrack. A strong and loyal family is a rarity for most of the children I see. Yesterday, older brother Number Two was on a double mission from mom: make sure the kid behaves even when she’s not around, and get some tips on which remedial materials to buy so they can keep after him at home. (It all sounds grim? Wrong. The kid spends most of his time laughing, and asking for new exercises. I spend most of the coaching session laughing, and throwing tougher ones at him.)

As for the two language classes: the women “wrote” what they want to say in the calendar we’re pulling together for 2013 – meaning, I took dictation (and stopped writing when told something was off the record; for example, an old woman saying she enjoys the time in bed with her husband). At the second class: the unspoken. In many ways, it’s best for the classes to be split along gender lines, at least, at this stage. The women get to speak  up; the men avoid loss of face, are allowed to goof and express their frustrations at not being able to decipher a letter.

What you see. What you make of it.

Corny, for example. At least, corny when spoken by politicians trying to score points. A catch in the throat moment, in real time. One of the recent additions to the women’s group, an older woman who doesn’t read or write, and barely speaks French “wrote” the following when asked what she wanted to say in the calendar: “In the morning, I wake up. The children are well – one in Paris, the others in Switzerland. I wash my hands and my face. I say thank you God, thank you France.”

Story Grab Bag

In Circus, Drafts, Hautvoir, Poetry on March 29, 2012 at 7:39 am

The loud ones grab the attention; the quiet ones hold it. You have to wonder what’s going on behind the smooth facade; what’s registering of the tantrums or other wild stuff they’re watching without a peep. What they’re saying behind the polite “Oui, Madame,” “Non, Madame“.

Then, you catch glimpses of the roiling. Or the quiet one hands you a key; yours to use, or not.  What do you do with it? How? When?


Checking the solidity of a wall by kicking it. Best to wear good work boots. The wall proved A-OK. I couldn’t help thinking you test the wall before you put up the new wallpaper. But the boot only left a dusty imprint. Easy enough to wipe off.

It’s a dream image. Reminds me of the scrubbing/wiping gesture code worked out with one of the Wednesday kids. When he makes a mistake on the white board, he scrubs/wipes his  head first, the board second, and starts over.


The heartbreakers

Prévert crossed with Rimbaud. A poem written by a twelve-year old I’ll probably no longer see. Why? Because the mother’s drinking problem is so severe, she can’t manage any of the kids’ appointments any more; nor can she handle her own. The question now: do social services remove the children from her care, or not?

The poem was good, I had the boy dictate it to me, and sign his name to it.


Rehearsal tonight for Saturday’s concert in Lavaur. Yes, this is a diary-type entry, of the feel-good variety. The real purpose to it here: having my head work on  the music/circus part of the story i.e. how does it keep on interacting with the grittier, sootier parts of the tale?


In Drafts, Hautvoir, Story material on March 28, 2012 at 7:01 am

Keep on going (the egg basket talking).

Things are skewy over here. Will get skewier today and tomorrow. Friday being too far in the future to spend much time considering.

Of certainties, I have these: 1)seven of the nine children should show up for their coaching sessions today. 2)If every town and organization went belly up because of a deficit, it would mean none of the world’s Most Prosperous Countries would be proclaiming their successes in Davos or elsewhere.3) Politicians are addicted to the Sky-is-falling syndrome, every time they have to sit up straight and say: “yes, big problems here of the real kind; yes, we goofed on this, this and the other thing; here’s how we move forward.”

Apart from which “la mer est calme et le ciel est bleu” (code words an inventive thief speaks into the phone, seconds before being trapped by his own inventiveness. The thief being played by one of my favorite actors, Lino Ventura.) Plus, which other secret weapon beside the egg basket? Ah yes, the dream. The two people in it, one of them being good old Mimi Cohen from the eleventh floor Beit IBM days. She and this other person… nope, this is story material.

Plus, love cracking through the asphalt anyway

In Drafts, Film, Hautvoir on March 27, 2012 at 6:48 am

Biggies, this morning. Which of the pieces to pick up first. Film, maybe. Conversation at the office before the work day started. At issue: yes or no, can we find an honorable settlement allowing us to stage documentary evenings in this town, as we do in Gaillac? As the film’s director said: both she and the production house were tarred in the fight. It’s not just a question of personal ego: her film is playing in other cities where, in some cases, people are asking the right questions after viewing it. Meaning: they’re not focusing on the individuals portrayed in her documentary; they’re raising issues concerning the political process itself – how it works, why the distance between expectations and reality. The biggies.

Followed by other biggies relating to learning and  knowledge. Yes, I’m taking all of this at a certain remove here. Not so in the dream world. Violence. How people cope with their own; with that of others. A figure read in a report; how the expert arrived at it, not being clear. No matter; of all the children subjected to violence, over seventy percent become good parents i.e. do not repeat the pattern, healing their own hurts by helping others over their own. Which still leaves thirty percent to wreak further havoc; yes. I’d rather focus on the seventy percent because they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Viewing documentaries for the next showing. The award winners for notions of the exemplary. The not-quite-there-yet to figure out what are the missing ingredients. The biggest problem relating to flinching; not on the part of the audience, on the part of the film maker. Two possible mistakes relating to flinching: the roaming camera syndrome, taking in everything except what matters (yammer,  yammer, yammer); or, at the other extreme, the hyper-zoom into undiluted horror for its numbing effect (look, ma, I’m no sissy.) How to balance out the specific vs the implied. Which brings back to the basic questions: what are you showing me; why are you showing it; what do I do with what you’ve shown me.

Plus, in the most concrete of terms also relating to story: the ones on the cusp, like the young man in one of the documentaries whose gone from small time robber to acting student – and having a lot of trouble doing as convincing a job appearing threatening on stage, as he did in his bad old hold-up days.

Plus, a small boy with big, big questions.

Peaks and Valleys

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 26, 2012 at 6:55 am

Sometimes, you let someone talk on because the person is expressing your own sentiments so well, you  may as well let them do the whole number.

She showed up late; someone had told her: “no! we move the clocks ahead next week, not this one”. Picture of my life, she said: what other people say matters too much, I let them drive me crazy. Besides, I’ve had it with artists, none of my projects are working out, everyone is saying no to me; I want a real job –  cashier, anything –  where I punch the clock, then come home and raise my kid like normal  people do; nobody wants to hire me; even for factory work, I don’t fit their categories; besides, it’s not working out with my new boyfriend. Sometimes we’re so far apart, I don’t know what to do anymore; plus, here I am, turning forty,  he doesn’t say it but I see it in his eyes when he looks at the younger ones. Besides…”

Besides, the light outside was grand; I was glad to get away from my late Sunday afternoon attack of seasonal affective disorder – you’ll tell me whittling it down to a two-hour time span on one specific day of the week should make me happy enough. It does; once the two-hour time span is over. While it lasts? A horror show.

Egos. Like everything else, they work best when you don’t think about them; when you don’t even realize you have one; or when yours and someone else’s are having fun playing. Worse than a bag of broken bones when the barbs get going, whether  self-inflicted or aimed at you by someone else. You’re a kid again, discovering all the ways in which you are inadequate, lagging, lacking, unfit for human company and all the rest of the so on.

Only solution: getting away from that All-Seing Eye i.e. turning the gaze outward. Dealing with someone else’s perceived inadequacies, whether real or imagined. Forgetting what the Elders said. Or reminding yourself you’re the Elder now with whatever foolishness and wisdom  you’ve accumulated so far.

But damn; the intensity of those bouts of S A D.

On the road to…

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 25, 2012 at 6:44 am

“As often as necessary,” the man said that day. Meaning: you repeat it as often as needed to convince yourself: A) yes, it really happened; B) yes, I survived; C) yes, the coast is clear enough to move on now. The next questions then being: move on to what, where and how.

The same holds true for characters. Why are they saying this – whether to themselves or to someone else? Because of a threat. It may be an imaginary threat; it may be a real one. In any case, whatever the character has devised as a workable world view/ethic/plan is at risk of falling apart. Whether the character keeps repeating the same stories from wartime, personal failures or Top Ten Moments of anything, the message boils down to: and here I am after all this. What do I do now, either to top it, salvage what’s salvageable or experience something that will put another spin on everything that came before?

The story the character tells is one thing. What about the underlying message or assumption. “It happened this way because… Therefore…” Morality tales underline this aspect. So do training booklets, political flyers, advice to the lovelorn, and countless self-help programs. At some level, everybody – man, woman or child – is playing out some version of a morality tale. The tale only stays interesting if, indeed, the character carries it further down the road; tests out the shadows out there; makes other assumptions; or forgets the stories about past glories, in order to attempt new triumphs, no matter how modest they may appear to others. The triumph being in the move onward (this last statement being the Moral to this Blogpost; yes, I’m big on morality tales. Raised on them, for better and for worse.)

A woman said to the Universe:

In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

The landscape. Never lose sight of it. The surrounding hills. How the river meanders, and in which direction. The turn-off, right next to the optician’s: where does it lead? Who owns the property? Those land surveyors, and their laser-beamed meters? What are they up to?

Story beckons.

No News is Good News

In Drafts, Hautvoir, Story material on March 23, 2012 at 7:17 am

Does it matter whether experts and/or amateurs rate him as a fifty-nine, an eighty-six or a ninety-five in intellectual wattage? In this instance? Get this: his chances at a future in this country improve if he’s rated as less-than-smart-but-trainable. Why? Because he gets pulled out of the regular stream and placed in a training center for the feeble-minded (no longer a politically-correct descriptor? I couldn’t care less; to my knowledge, when things go crazy,  nobody checks for IQ).

One of the mothers at the language class yesterday: draws the word oublier (to forget) from the salad spinner-dryer. She uses it in a few sentences. I ask her: did your son forget his lesson last night? No, he was scared, she tells me. So scared he didn’t go to school. The good news here being she couldn’t have told me this, a year ago, because she didn’t know enough words in French to string together a full sentence. The sad news being her twelve-year old son was cowering behind the living room couch at the sound of a neighbor’s motorcycle, because of events happening in Toulouse, not in Graulhet.

There’s now a regular group of eight to ten women at the Thursday language class; two or three more scheduled to start next week. The men’s group is up to six regulars. The Great Debate on Genderless classes was settled a few weeks ago during a meeting with the Deciders: yes, we can offer language training in separate men and women’s groups because we are not part of the National Education system. (Not a single one of the women would show up for classes if men were part of the group; their husbands wouldn’t allow it.)

In the men’s group, the imam demonstrated he remembered the past, the present and the future tenses of the verb to be. We read newspaper headlines, stringing the sounds together; no, the front page wasn’t the focus of the men’s attention. They wanted to know if the new cinema and daycare center would be on the northern or the southern side of the river.

Back to the women for a bit: two newcomers yesterday, one of which could only show me a card stating her name, her address and her year of birth. Birth date? “Same as mine,” the mother of the scared boy said. “We were all born on January 3rd that year.” The other women broke out laughing.


In Drafts, Hautvoir on March 22, 2012 at 6:42 am

I like her. Where the average civil servant writes a report, using the passive form, she rushes forward and speaks her mind. Where a mid-level person sent as stand-in for her boss at a meeting with upper-ups nods, scrapes and bows, hoping to land the job some day, she speaks out in indignation when a political type attempts a cover-up. For her, the problem, of course, is surviving in her chosen field; not destroying too much china while chasing the bull back out to the pasture; and not suffering from terminal burn-out when too many of her well-intended moves cause backlashes.

This first paragraph lifted straight from the files of real, after the person inspiring those lines drove me home last night, and we sat in her car while she poured her heart out.

In the world of story, my problem is dealing with something of the same nature i.e. too much happening to too many people. As much as I’d like to manage something with fewer characters hogging center stage; less rapid movements of the camera from one to the other like in an overcrowded three-ring circus. As much as I’d like more structure and better pacing, the characters keep running off on me. Piling on some more stuff; or racing on to their next disaster; or mulling and mulling and mulling and…

The pace out in real isn’t helpful. The wash of events brings in new issues to handle every day; more information about this person or that one; more heavy-duty drama; more ridiculous sidebars; more everything, out of which to cull what matters most, what gets discarded or set aside, what’s put to rest, what needs more attention, or less.

Rebels like the one in the first paragraph. Years and years down the line from the days when they stormed barricades. How do they evolve? What do they become once the steps are steeper than ever and the muscles harder to convince the view is worth the climb – or the climb is worth the challenge, in itself?